Building A Public Forum

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

The most important function of a newspaper is to supply news. A weekly paper obviously cannot indulge in this luxury. It can only comment on the day to day events. Implicit in these comments is the second important function of a newspaper. It is to build a public forum.

Take the file of any newspaper of the distant past. If from its pages one cannot get a glimpse of the important events of the time, that newspaper is severely wanting in the essentials of journalism. It is from this point that I have always looked at the Mauritius Times. Now that it is two years old, one can look back to review its forte and foibles.

What is the public forum? Man is a rational animal, it is true, but often enough, the herd instinct predominates and we are prone to have our opinion pat from our neighbour. It was Mussolini who said that the people always demanded to be led. They want that somebody should do the thinking for them. The brain is a vast treasure when it is put in motion but very few desire to take the trouble to make it function.

This being human nature the world over, it is generally imperative to build a public opinion. Two agencies have generally contributed to this great work. The influence of Parties and the Press has been considerable in building public opinion. After all, behind the Parties and the Press, there is a small group of people that do all the thinking and mental planning. In this respect, that small band of people, generally young persons, has done a pioneering work at the Mauritius Times. I am really proud to see these young men giving themselves so much trouble and pains to create a public opinion.

It was also necessary to spread out on various matters of interest and try and probe deeper into the particular affairs that interest them most. Nestor and Titan have a general political grasp of current affairs that is really admirable. A very old hand at journalism used to say that a journalist must be able to smell news. These two are the journalistic type. Look up the file for the last twenty-four months and try to see the varied facets of what has come out from the pen of these young men and you will feel that they represent the prototype of the builders of public opinion.

I think that Mr Doojendranath Napal deserves credit for drawing our attention towards the past events of this little colony as a necessary liaison with what is to come. He has made laudable efforts to bring to light what are generally buried in tomes, inaccessible and ill-understood by the majority of those who want to get at them. The subject of history is itself of absorbing interest. One always feels the sense of discovery and it tends to become a happy guide to understand our present-day problems. The history of our country is full of interest and one who wants to dabble in the problems of today must have a fair grounding of things that happened in the days gone by.

I have found some mature thinking and easy grasp of things in the writings of Statesmen and I have always regretted its long intervals. Peter Pan displays an interest that is by no means common. His range of subjects and the racy way in which he tackles them make a really effective contribution. Mon Oeil is skitty, pungent and rambling and does often make adorable thrust that rocks the interior in us. Mr Ramyead‘s excursions in literature may have a restricted audience but it does serve a useful purpose among the young who are taking examinations.

I have been much impressed by the marshalling of B.H.Singh. What please me most is the amount of pains and midnight oil attitude some young men take in getting at their facts. Was it A.G. Gardiner who said that if you must write, you must read a great deal? Those who do not have the patience to burn the midnight oil poring on their books can never hope to be writers worth the name. I pray that this attitude may grow so that young persons may learn to do selective and specialised studies. After all, the best virtue of a writer is that he can write with depth and variety. Every blasted fool who holds a parchment should be able to piece his ideas together but to be able to endure one must have depth and variety.

What a splendid example of these we find in the writings of Mr Peter Ibbotson. I have marvelled at the facility with which he can write and the colossal argumentation he attempts on subjects the range of which make us gape with admiration. It is really lucky that the M.T. has been able to enlist the co-operation of Mr Ibbotson. It has raised the prestige of that paper considerably. I am sure that our friend Peter knows more about the intricate problems of Mauritius than even some of our most informed Mauritian leaders. If colonies continue to love English affairs with that idolatrous love, it is thanks to sincere friends like Peter Ibbotson, Fenner Brockway and James Johnson. They are our guide, friend and philosopher and we are justly proud of this association.

These friends and many others who write at longer intervals have helped to build at the Times a forum that cannot pass unnoticed if it is not actually dreaded and avidly read. I have seen the eagerness with which it is read although they say that this is a French-speaking country and many people cannot understand English!

* Published in print edition on 5 October 2018

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